God Will Provide

21 The Lord was good to Sarah and kept his promise. 2 Although Abraham was very old, Sarah had a son exactly at the time God had said. 3 Abraham named his son Isaac.
22 Some years later God decided to test Abraham, so he spoke to him.
Abraham answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
2 The Lord said, “Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar.” 3 So Abraham got up early the next morning and chopped wood for the fire. He put a saddle on his donkey and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go.
4 Three days later Abraham looked off in the distance and saw the place. 5 He told his servants, “Stay here with the donkey, while my son and I go over there to worship. We will come back.”
6 Abraham put the wood on Isaac’s shoulder, but he carried the hot coals and the knife. As the two of them walked along, 7-8 Isaac said, “Father, we have the coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”
“My son,” Abraham answered, “God will provide the lamb.”
The two of them walked on, and 9 when they reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Next, he tied up his son and put him on the wood. 10 He then took the knife and got ready to kill his son. 11 But the Lord’s angel shouted from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
12 “Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son.
14 Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
This is a horrible story. On so many levels, it goes against the grain of a loving God, against the grain of a wise parent, against the grain of child-rearing. It is cruel, insensitive, irrational, disgusting. I truthfully thought about skipping it, about looking for something kinder, more inspiring. I wanted to protect you from this gruesome tale of a parent threatening to kill his son.
I belong to a Facebook page that discusses each Sunday’s text. The discussion on this one was fascinating. It ranged from “I’m going to skip it” to “God can do whatever God wants.”
What questions does this scripture inspire in you?
Do you wonder why a loving God would ask Abraham to kill his son? He only had two sons, one by Hagar—she and their son Ismael had already been banished to the desert because Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was jealous of the two. Abraham had only the son of him and Sarah, Issac. Having only one child was unusual in those days. The real kicker here is that God had promised Abraham lots and lots of descendants.
Genesis 17: God said to him, 4 “I am making my agreement with you: I will make you the father of many nations. 5 I am changing your name from Abram to Abraham because I am making you a father of many nations. 6 I will give you many descendants. New nations will be born from you, and kings will come from you.
And yet, Abraham was 99 years old when that promise was made and Sarah was way past child-bearing age. How could Abraham have descendants? They had Issac when Abraham was 100 years old. One son. An only child. And yet, we find this horrible story recorded —God asking Abraham to kill that one chid, the child who was supposed to produce nations of people. Was God breaking his promise to Abraham? God gives Abraham the good news that he will have grandchildren, then God takes away the only possible way for Abraham to have grandchildren.
What kind of God is that? How can we worship, adore, admire, have anything to do with a God who asks a father to kill his only son?
If we take the Bible seriously, what are we supposed to learn from this story?
Let me digress a bit and explore what it means to take the Bible seriously. For some readers, taking the Bible seriously means taking the words literally at a surface level. It is both a luxurious and lazy way to read the Bible, because it requires no searching, no questioning, no digging into the layers of meaning in each chapter. Reading the Bible literally allows us to ignore the people in the Bible, it allows us to ignore the cultural, geographical, and sociological lives of the characters who populate Scripture. Taking the Bible literally can dull the significance of God’s love and the complexity of God’s creation. Furthermore, taking the Bible literally often means that we understand it at the level of a small child, even when we are adults.
Let’s explore some of the different ways to learn from this story.
22:1 Some years later God decided to test Abraham, so he spoke to him.
So, this was a test. What was God testing? Apparently, God was testing Abraham’s loyalty. Was Abraham loyal enough to God that he would kill the person most precious to him? Abraham scored 100% on his test. Issac eventually had seventeen grandchildren, whose descendants eventually became the nation of Israel.
We can also look at this story of sacrifice as a significant watershed moment in Hebrew history. Abraham and Sarah lived among people of a variety of faiths and practices. Sacrificing a child or any human being was an acceptable religious practice in those days. This event between Abraham and Issac can symbolize that God does not want human sacrifice.
Another lesson here is that God will provide. God provided an acceptable substitute for the sacrifice; a ram was caught in the bushes, ready for Abraham’s knife.
An interesting correlation can be made between Abraham sacrificing Issac and God sacrificing Jesus. God gave up his only Son, just as he asked Abraham to give up Issac.
Up to the time of Jesus, animal sacrifice was practiced only in the temple in Jerusalem, not in the local synagogues. After the temple was destroyed in 70 CE, animal sacrifice was discontinued.
The hardest part of the story is believing a father would, without question, walk his son up a mountain, take out his knife and prepare to kill that son.
What do our children represent to us? I’m going to insert a modern twist here. Do we demand from our children at least part of their lives? Do we ever ask too much of them or do we ask the wrong things of them? Do we project our own wishes, our own plans on our children and try to make them into us? We hear plenty of talk about how parents make sacrifices for their children, but do we sacrifice our children to meet certain cultural standards? Do we expect our children to be star athletes, straight-A students, and computer whizzes? A year ago, I decided we would give our grandson, Charlie, music lessons. That was his birthday present from us. So now Charlie goes to class once a week, then sits at home with his dad, practicing his cello. You know what Charlie really likes to do? He likes to run. He likes to put puzzles together. He likes to play games. He likes to build things. I watched a video of his spring recital the other night. He looked worried; he looked confused; he looked stressed. He never looked happy in that video. Am I sacrificing something in Charlie because I think he should be a musician? Charlie’s father was just a little older when we started him on piano lessons. It was a disaster; we quit the lessons. Now that little boy is a band director.
Who knows.
What can we take home with us today? We live in a culture that stresses independence, individuality. We are expected to make our own decisions, based on rational thought. And yet, as Christians, we catch a break. We can turn our worries over to God, not by abdicating any responsibility, but by talking over with God what we can and can’t do. It’s a kind of praying, a kind of meditating. I truly believe that when we open our minds to God, God answers our prayers, not by providing miracles, not by taking away or adding something, but by giving us the time and the energy and the cerebral ability to discern what we should do.
14 Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” God does provide, not just food, rain, shelter. God provides us with choices and, if we are willing, with the wisdom to make those choices. Amen.







Creation without Limits

The Creation
James Weldon Johnson, 1871 – 1938

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen.


When you think of the Creation Story, what comes to mind? Do you remember the first time you heard the Creation Story?
When I hear the Creation Story, I see pictures of trees and flowers and animals and oceans and stars and moons and suns. I see colors and contrasts.
Hundreds of pictures of the Creation have been painted by hundreds of artists. If you were an artist, what would you paint? I would have to paint at least one picture per day of Creation. What would you paint first? The sun, the moon, lots of stars against a dark background. How would you paint the rivers and the oceans? Would you paint flat, golden deserts next or high white-topped mountains?
No matter what you paint, it will be right. At least as right as any masterpieces painted by famous artists. Nobody was there to watch, so who knows what really happened?
What if you believe that the Creation story is more story than fact? I am comfortable talking about Creation as a seven-day wonder orchestrated by God, all by God’s self. I am also comfortable with the Big Bang theory. I am comfortable with evolution. I am comfortable with what may seem to be conflicting stories, but I like to think that these ideas, from our own Bible stories to the evidence collected by physicists and astronomers and paleontologists and biologists, can be contained within the realm of God. In fact, the Bible gives two versions of Creation, and they are not exactly alike.
The first story runs from Genesis 1:1 thru Genesis 2:3; the second story picks up at Genesis 2:4 and runs to the end of the chapter at Genesis 2:25.
In the first story, Creation takes six days and man (and woman) are created last after all the plants and animals are created. In the second story, Creation takes one day, man is created first, then all the plants and animals are created, and finally woman is created.
Why not have God Almighty get all the work done in one day. On the other hand, why wrap up the story in seven days? Think about the amount of change that happened in those seven days! Why limit the story?
There are other ways to look at Creation: Do you know much about the the Big Bang theory? Me neither. I looked it up:
Big Bang Theory – The Premise
The Big Bang theory is an effort to explain what happened at the very beginning of our universe. Discoveries in astronomy and physics have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that our universe did in fact have a beginning. Prior to that moment there was nothing; during and after that moment there was something: our universe. The big bang theory is an effort to explain what happened during and after that moment.
Doesn’t that fit with both Genesis versions? There was nothing and then something happened. Nothing. Something.
According to the standard theory, our universe sprang into existence as “singularity” around 13.7 billion years ago. Our universe is thought to have begun as an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense, something – a singularity. Where did it come from? We don’t know. Why did it appear? We don’t know.
Isn’t that where God comes in? Human beings are always seeking answers. God gives us answers that we can understand. God didn’t give all of us Steven Hawking brains. God gives us answers that we can understand. But God can also set puzzles and miracles and mysteries for us.
After its initial appearance, it apparently inflated (the “Big Bang”), expanded and cooled, going from very, very small and very, very hot, to the size and temperature of our current universe. It continues to expand and cool to this day and we are inside of it: incredible creatures living on a unique planet, circling a beautiful star clustered together with several hundred billion other stars in a galaxy soaring through the cosmos, all of which is inside of an expanding universe that began as an infinitesimal singularity which appeared out of nowhere for reasons unknown. This is the Big Bang theory.
Is the Big Bang any less a miracle than the stories we read in Genesis?
There are many misconceptions surrounding the Big Bang theory. For example, we tend to imagine a giant explosion. Experts however say that there was no explosion; there was (and continues to be) an expansion. Rather than imagining a balloon popping and releasing its contents, imagine a balloon expanding: an infinitesimally small balloon expanding to the size of our current universe.
This leads me to my other observation of Creation. God did not create something that would never change. God’s Creation, like God, is a living, breathing, evolving miracle. It has not stayed the same year after year. Something is always changing.
I love the idea of the universe expanding…of creation going on and on. God made Creation a process, not a thing, not an event. Think of evolution—not about humans evolving from monkeys-that’s a joke, not an actual theory—but about how plants and animals evolve around each other. Think of the monarch caterpillar who eats milkweed; the milkweed contains a type of poison that makes the caterpillar’s predators sick. Think about the shape of a flower and what kind of insect pollinates it. Think about the flowers in your garden—some are visited by bumblebees, others by honey bees, and some by hummingbirds—a flower for each creature, a creature for each flower.
What is your favorite part of Creation? Flowers? Colorado? Good black dirt? Sunsets? Snow? Horses? Trees? Babies? Music? The smell of lilacs? Mushrooms poking instantaneously through the soil. Leaves losing their chlorophyll to reveal the reds and golds of autumn. A cool breeze on a warm day. Being loved. Tasting a chocolate brownie. Petting a kitten. God did not create just the kitten; God created our ability to enjoy the cuteness, the softness of the kitten.
God created something that God continues to love. God created a universe that is never the same two days in a row, not even two minutes in a row. Did God create the world in seven days, or is the story told within the parameters of our understanding of time? Did God first create atoms?
The first subatomic particles to be formed included protons, neutrons, and electrons. Though simple atomic nuclei formed within the first three minutes after the Big Bang, thousands of years passed before the first electrically neutral atoms formed. The majority of atoms produced by the Big Bang were hydrogen, along with helium and traces of lithium. Giant clouds of these primordial elements later coalesced through gravity to form stars and galaxies, and the heavier elements were synthesized either within stars or during supernovae.
The Bible uses language that can be understood by anyone, especially by people who, centuries ago, did not know of the existence of protons and neutrons. That doesn’t mean that God didn’t first create protons and neutrons and electrons. It means that those men writing those words would not have had the vocabulary.
My point is not to shake up your faith in the beautiful story of creation. My point is to make us see that God is bigger than our own imaginations. The people who read the Bible in 2017 know about parts of creation that were not observable to humans who lived before Jesus was born. If you believe God created the universe, then who else would have created protons and neutrons and electrons? Who else would have created living things that keep on creating? When God created the flower, God created it to make new flowers. When God created fish, God created them to make more fish. God even created us to keep making more versions of us!
Where else could Creation come from, but God. God did not step in at some point and say, Oh! Here’s some water! Here’s some dirt! Let’s make something! If God is the Creator of the universe, God was here from the very beginning of the first thought, of the first particle.
There are plenty of people who think of the Creation story as a myth, as a way for primitive people to understand the space where they live. But if we believe in God, if we believe that God creates, then why limit God to one day or seven days? Why limit God to ready-made four-legged and two-winged creatures? Wasn’t God present when the first cell coalesced into something more than a purposeless blob? Wasn’t God present when the dinosaurs disappeared and the wooly mammoths appeared on the scene? Wasn’t God present when human beings discovered fire, gravity, penicillin?
Maybe I’m trying to “have my cake and eat it, too.” But I will claim my Bible stories as inspiration for my own curiosity, as a foundation for my own faith. I will claim science as the details of Creation. I do not see conflict between science and our own faith. I see science as a part of our creation, part of God’s experiment that started with nothing and continues to expand into infinity. To claim that God did only the things written down in the Bible makes no sense to me. God did so much more than create a person out of clay; he created blood vessels and stem cells and eyelashes. Seven days or billions of years? Does it matter? Here we are, walking, talking proof of God’s Creation.
I’m guessing that many sermons will be reflecting on our care of Creation, on climate change, on pollution, on abusing the very Creation we claim as our gift from God. Some churches will make deliberate choices about using only china cups, not disposable styrofoam cups for coffee after church. Some churches will be able to afford alternative kinds of energy. Each congregation preserves itself. When we as a congregation do what we can to maintain our buildings, let us look at our buildings not as our property, but as a sign of God’s amazing powers of creation. Let us see ourselves as created to care for all of Creation, not just our patch.
Before we can care for anything, we have to appreciate it. Let’s use today to appreciate Creation, from the tiniest speck to the biggest mountain. Let’s use today to respect Creation, from the flimsiest spider web to the biggest hurricane. Let’s use today to marvel at the very air we breathe. Amen.